Mexico is probably the most “Beatlemanic” country in Latin America. There are half a hundred Beatles tribute bands in Mexico, not to mention a major Beatles memorabilia collector who takes one of those bands (plus fans) to the annual International Beatleweek to play in open sessions at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, a sacred site for Beatles fans. More regular hours of Mexican radio (12 a week) are devoted to playing the Beatles, only the Beatles, than anywhere else in the world. The yearly Gran Festival de los Beatles in Mexico City is over twenty years old, and features as many tribute bands as will fit, films, and exhibits. There are more than a million registered members of Mexico’s Beatles fan club, Todos Juntos Ahora (All together now); with a high estimate of 250,000, it’s possible that Paul McCartney’s 2012 “On the Run” tour set the attendance record for an event in the Mexico City’s zocalo—and the guy was about six weeks shy of his 70th birthday!
Why is this? Fanciful, if not extremely implausible, explanations have been offered, from the religion-tinged (Mexicans “need to believe in a redeeming divinity that one day will descend from the sky”) to socio-politico-economic (“People here go to concerts to escape from an everyday hell people live in”). When John Lennon was killed on Wednesday, December 8, 1980, Gabriel García Marquez meditated not on why the Beatles are so popular in Mexico, but the essence of the Mexican experience of the Beatles.
Translated from the García Marquez’s article in El Pais, December 16, 1980.
Yes: Nostalgia remains the same as it has always been
It has been a worldwide victory of poetry. In a century in which the victors are always those who strike more strongly, those who win more votes, those who set more goals, the richest men and the most beautiful women, it is encouraging, this worldwide uproar caused by the death of a man who had done nothing more than sing about love.
It is the apotheosis of those who never win. For 48 hours, there was no talk of anything else. Three generations—ours, that of our children, and that of our older grandchildren—had for the first time the feeling of living a common disaster, and for the same reasons. Television reporters in the street asked a señora of eighty what John Lennon song she liked most, and she said, as if fifteen: “Happiness is a warm gun.” A boy who was watching the show said, “I like them all.” My younger son asked a girl his own age why they killed John Lennon, and she replied, as if she were eighty: “Because the world is running out.”
That’s right: the only shared nostalgia that you have with your children are the songs of the Beatles. Everyone for different reasons, of course, and with a different sadness, as always happens with poetry. I will never forget that memorable day in 1963, in Mexico, when I heard for the first time, in a thoughtful way, a song by the Beatles. Since then, I have discovered that the universe was perfused by them. In our house in San Angel, where we scarcely had space to sit down, there were only two records: a selection of Debussy preludes and the first album of the Beatles.
Someone again proposed the old notion that the best musicians are those of the second letter of the catalog: Bach. Beethoven, Brahms, and Bartok. Someone said once again the same old nonsense: the inclusion of “Bozart.” Alvaro Mutis, who like all great musical scholars has an incurable weakness for symphonic “bricks,” insisted on including Bruckner. Another took up battle once again for Berliotz—I rejected that because I cannot overcome the superstition that he is is a oiseau de malheur, i.e., a bird of ill omen.
Instead, I have since then insisted on including the Beatles. Emilio García Riera, who agrees with me, and who is a film critic and historian with a slightly supernatural insight, especially after the second drink, told me in those days: “I hear the Beatles with a certain fear because I feel that I’m going to remember them for the rest of my life.” It is the only case I know of someone with enough foresight to realize that he was witnessing the birth of his nostalgia. At that time, when you entered the studio of Carlos Fuentes, you found him typing with one finger of one hand, as he always did, in the midst of a dense cloud of smoke and isolated from the horrors of the universe with the music of the Beatles at top volume.
As always happens, we think at the time we’re far from being happy, and now we think the opposite. It is the trap of nostalgia, who removes from her realm the bitter moments, paints them a different color, and puts them back so it no longer hurts. As in ancient portraits which seem enlightened by the illusory glow of happiness, and in which we only see with amazement how young we were when we were young, and not only those who were there, but the house and trees in the background, even to the chairs where we sat. Che Guevara, talking to his men around the fire in the nights empty of war, once said that nostalgia begins with the food. True, but only when you’re hungry. Rather, it always starts with the music. In reality, our personal past recedes from us from the moment we are born, but we only feel it pass when a disc is finished.
This afternoon, thinking about all this in front of a gloomy window where snow fell, with more than fifty years gone by and still without really knowing who I am, or what the hell I’m doing here, I have the sense that the world was like this from the time I was born until the Beatles began to sing. Then everything changed. Men let their hair and beards grow, women learned to undress naturally, the way of dressing and loving changed, and the sexual revolution began, as did using drugs to dream. It was the deafening years of the Vietnam War and university revolutions. But above all, it was hard lessons of a different relationship between parents and children, the beginning of a new dialogue between them that had seemed impossible for centuries.
The symbol of all this—at the head of the Beatles—was John Lennon. His absurd death leaves us a different world populated by beautiful images. From “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” one of their most beautiful songs, we keep a horse of newsprint with a tie of mirrors. In “Eleanor Rigby,” with a stubborn bass of baroque cello, we keep a desolate girl picking up the rice in the atrium of a church where a wedding has just taken place. “All the lonely people—where do they all come from?” He asks unanswered.
We keep as well Father Mckenzie, writing a sermon that no one has heard, washing his hands over the graves, and a girl who removes her face before going into her house to leave it in a jar by the door to put back on when she goes out again. These creatures have been used to argue that John Lennon was a surrealist, something said too easily of all that seems odd, as is usually said of Kafka by those who have not learned to read him. For others, he [Lennon] is the visionary of a better world. Someone who made us understand that the old ones are not we who have many years, but those who do not board in time the train of their children.